Tracing Seeds (in Particular fenugreek) in Relation to the E. coli Outbreaks in Germany and France

 

On 21 May 2011, Germany reported an ongoing outbreak of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli- bacteria (STEC]), serotype O104:H4 (Frank et al., 2011). In Germany, between 1 May and 28 June 2011, 838 Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) cases and 3 091 STEC cases with diarrhea have been reported, of which 47 persons have died (RKI, 2011).

On Friday 24 June, France reported a cluster of patients with bloody diarrhoea, after having participated in an event in the Commune of Bègles near Bordeaux on 8 June. As of 28 June, eight cases of bloody diarrhoea and a further eight cases with HUS have been identified. Eleven of these patients, seven women and four men, between 31 and 64 years of age, had attended the same event in Bègles. Infection with E. coli O104:H4 has been confirmed for four patients with HUS.

Six of the cases reported having eaten sprouts at the event on 8 June, and leftovers are being analysed. Outbreak investigation revealed that the suspected sprouts of fenugreek, rocket and mustard had been privately produced in small quantities by the organiser of the event from seeds bought at an approved garden centre, and were not imported from the sprout producer implicated in the outbreak in Germany (INVS, 2011). An analytical epidemiological study is ongoing with the persons that attended the event on 8 June. Local trace back investigations in France suggested that the seeds for sprouting were distributed to the approved garden centre by a UK based company.

EFSA was urgently requested by the Commission to initiate a comprehensive tracing back exercise (followed by tracing forward) to identify the source of the two outbreaks and contribute to identifying appropriate risk mitigating measures regarding potential further outbreaks. These further investigations particularly aimed at determining whether the origin of the suspected sprout-seeds from the French cluster were linked to the large outbreak in northern Germany. This report documents the steps taken in the trace back process. Any activities already undertaken by the Task Force with regard to tracing forward are also described.

More information and the opinion may be found on the EFSA Web site.